The center of the storm: a look back at the 2004 hurricane season

 
 

Aug. 13, 2004: Friday the 13th.

Most of Longboat Key was empty, following an island-wide evacuation order issued for Hurricane Charley, but there were a few exceptions.

At 7 a.m., Whitney Beach Plaza owner Andrew Hlywa told police he planned to stay. They said, “You’re out of your mind. You’re probably going to die.”

Colony Beach & Tennis Resort owner Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber and his daughter, General Manager Katie Moulton, also stayed put, armed with a stash of water, dry goods, first aid equipment and a defibrillator. By 8:45 a.m., they were the 237-unit resort’s sole occupants.

Michael Welly, then the new Longboat Key Club & Resort general manager, also wasn’t going anywhere.
At 2 p.m., he moved into the Inn on the Beach library, because forecasts said Charley’s winds would hit the Key from the east, and the room was protected by walls on three sides and steel shutters over a set of windows overlooking the bay.

But by 3:30 p.m. — the time the storm was projected to impact the Key — it looked like just another rainy day in the Gulf. By 4:15 p.m., Charley began making landfall 50 miles to the south, near Port Charlotte.
By 4:45 p.m., a small group was celebrating inside Tiny’s of Longboat Key.

Around 6 p.m., town officials inspected the island and found bits of trees and other debris blown around the island. But overall, it was, as Police Chief Al Hogle put it, “an island that was OK.”

It was, of course, the first of four storms that would threaten the island during summer 2004. Ten years after hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne threatened the island, the Key has experienced beach erosion, downed trees and flooding as the result of storms, but it has still been spared of loss of life and property that other vulnerable locations have experienced.

Officials often remind residents that the Key’s luck could run out during any hurricane season. Still, in 2004, Longboat Key got a quadruple dose of luck.

On Sept. 3, 2004 — less than one month after Charley — town crews were on standby for Hurricane Frances. Unlike Charley, which made a last-minute sprint past the Key, Frances took her time. Rains started in the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 5, but didn’t stop until Monday at 2 a.m. Most of the Key lost power Monday morning but had it restored by the afternoon. Frances ripped off the roof of a home in the 3300 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive, but most damages were downed trees and wires.

But as officials assessed Frances’ impact, a new storm was headed to town: Hurricane Ivan, which had 185 mph winds at its eye and radiated topical-storm-force winds 265 miles from its center.

Village resident Verna Ritter stood in line for four hours to buy plywood — something she had never purchased in preparation for a storm despite 24 years of living on a coast. Longboat Key Public Works employees delivered 2,000 sandbags. Longboat Hardware Manager Jim Stonecypher said he wouldn’t remove board from the store’s windows until the storm reached Georgia.

But Ivan made a last-minute turn — this time to the Panhandle on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12.

By the time Hurricane Jeanne ripped through the state on Sept. 26, bringing 70 mph winds to the Key, Longboaters knew the drill. Even longtime Floridians who typically waited for mandatory evacuation orders reported that they didn’t wait to leave the Key as Jeanne approached.

Longboat Arms lost most of its carport roof, and the four-unit Apollo condominium lost its roof as well. Jeanne’s winds blew off most of the loose clay in the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center courts’ Har-Tru clay surfaces and swept away a 2-foot layer of beach sand.

As the Key breathed a collective sigh of relief after Jeanne, forecasters reminded residents that hurricane season continues through Nov. 30. But Longboat Key got truly lucky for the remaining two months of the 2004 hurricane season: No more named storms appeared on its radar.


BE PREPARED

The town and the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce will hold a disaster preparedness seminar from 3 to 6:30 p.m. June 19, at Longboat Key Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road.

Brian Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, will be the keynote speaker.

Other speakers include Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Don Hermey, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane, Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi, Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming and Longboat Key Public Works Director Juan Florensa.

The event will feature complimentary appetizers from The Chart House Restaurant and Harry’s Continental Kitchens, drinks from Gold Coast Eagle and tabletop displays by local disaster recovery businesses after the event.

The event is sponsored by Aqua Plumbing and Air.

To make reservations, call the chamber at 383-2466. Each pre-registered guest will receive a goodie bag and be entered for a door prize drawing.

 

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